While You’re Traveling Food Doesn’t Have To Break The Bank

Through a series of circumstances, my daughter is joining me in California this week. I will be there for work – while she (at age 17) will be at Disneyland with her friend. It is sort of a cheaper version of Spring Break for them. But a trip that they get to sort of do on their own. I already had a room because I’m there for work. We cashed in some airline points. She has had a few dog-sitting gigs that gave her enough money to get the discounted Disney tickets on her own. She also got $60 from a grandparent who found out she was going so that will act as her “souvenier” money.

Since I’ve been writing about cheap meal menus for the past couple weeks, I thought this would be a good time to talk about how we don’t let eating out every day eat our entire month’s food budget.

When I arrive on Monday afternoon, I will swing by Trader Joes’ and get some yogurts and some bagels/cream cheese and apples, bananas or grapes (things that don’t need big fridge space) for us all to eat for breakfasts all week. We did check that the hotel rooms do have a small fridge. Also, when we are at the store, we will plan at least a couple nights of sandwiches. So we will buy some lunchmeat, bread and chips.  We will plan to drink water – my daughter doesn’t drink carbonated anything – so that saves on soda money plus all that sugar. We have been told that the girls can bring water bottles into the park and refill them. This will save them a lot of money. When we are at Trader Joe’s we will also get them some snacks just to have in their backpack (and back in the room) to tide them over. I have told her since it is a “vacation” she can get one snack each afternoon. But hey she’s a teen and will be in the park with just her friend so what she does with her money is really her own.

We have done our research of things that the girls can eat with a smaller budget at Disneyland. These include apparently to-die-for corn dogs ($9.95 includes chips), we have also heard a hot spot is Bengal BBQ outside of Indiana Jones ride has some great deals (Someone told just just around $5 for a couple meat skewers), and Jolly Holiday soup around $6. They also researched some lobster nachos at California Adventure that the girls think they can share. There is a fruit bar where you can get healthy snacks for under $5. However, depending on what we find at Trader Joe’s I may tell the girls to bring a piece of fruit with them in their backpack. I also tell them that they should eat late lunch/early dinner to try to get dinner (something more filling but also at the lunch prices).

The great news is that, since I’m there for work, I will have a daily stipend so while food is more expensive than what I’ve been cooking at home the last couple weeks – this will at least be off-set by that stipend.

We will let you know how we do on this budget trip to Disneyland when we return. Until then, have a super week.

Blue Apron Made Me a Chef

I was sitting at an event at the Marriott Denver enjoying the food. It was a celebration for Marriott and Starwood’s merger. I often go to hotel events (it’s part of my job). We are often given what I affectionately call “parting gifts.” They are typically an item like a notepad, water bottle, or a bag. This time – we were treated to seeing Western Daughters Butcher Shop dismantle a full pig (with a saw) and then getting a chunk of pork. Most were given a pork chop. I told them that I am not much of a cook to give me something simple. So they handed me a larger chunk of pork wrapped in brown paper and told me that all I would need to do it sear it, salt and pepper it and stick it in the crock pot. I wasn’t really even sure what this cut of meat was. I brought it back to my table with a sort of giggle – I’m not a chef. I’m not close to a cook. Simple is good. This is when my friend Leslie told me that she had been using Blue Apron and she had some meals to give away (she had two sets of two meals).

When she sent me the link. I decided to try it. I opt’d for the family meals. There are three of us in my family – myself, my daughter and my teenage (football playing) son. The meals said they would serve four – but I have found that with a teenage boy – what normally feeds four people feeds the three of us just fine. I figured if there were leftovers I would eat them for lunch.

I am an adventurous eater. I will try just about anything. My kids used to be the same way. They were never picky kids that would only eat hot dogs and McDonalds (not that there’s anything wrong with that in my book). But I chose the Moroccan-Spiced Lamb & Beef Tagine and the Blackened Chicken & Rice. I chose those because I was not sure that my kids would eat the fish and the other option was a pasta. I figured if it was free I would go with what seemed more expensive. I could probably make a simiilar pasta dish for cheap.

The package came a few days later. It was packed in ice and in an insulated box. Everything I needed for two full meals! There was a menu sheet for each meal. Simple and easy to read. The front side has a short description of the meal and then the list of ingredients. The ingredients in the box were clearly marked and I could see which items were for which meal.

The first we tried was the Tagine. The smell was delicious. The preparations were simple and easy to follow with just a few steps. (Six steps). It walked me through how to cook, when to add what and even how to finish off the meal complete with a dollop of yogurt sauce and green scallions. The meal smelled awesome and tasted even better…to me. When I proudly served it to my daughter (my son was out with friends). She didn’t love it as much as I did. She ate that but not much of it. I hadn’t even told her it was lamb (if I did I think she would not have eaten ANY at all). I had enough leftovers for several days. I loved the fact that it was a WHOLE meal. Not just the entree (as you might get at a place like Dream Dinners). Complete even with the pita chips served on the side.

IMG_4288

The other meal was the Blackened Chicken & Rice. Again this was a simple and easy to follow directions. The side  was cooked rice with kale, different oranges (mandarin and blood orange) which the chicken was served atop. I thought it delicious. But neither of my kids ate much. They said they didn’t care much for the taste. On the other hand, I loved it. So once again I will be eating for DAYS on the leftovers.

Overall, I loved both meals. There was plenty of food to really serve four people. The recipe choices were unique and something I would certainly not have made on my own. They were both easy to follow and delicious. They made me feel like I really could master the kitchen. But the fact that neither of my kids liked the meals and at the cost – I may opt for once a month doing Blue Apron but just a meal for two – so I can make it for myself and have leftovers for just a day or so. I liked that it was a full meal – not just an entree –  where I need to dream up what to have on the side or how to incorporate veggies.

Grand Cayman is Grand Fun

I recently took a trip that I won through my company (HelmsBriscoe) as a Top Producer. We were given a choice (with dates attached) to go to several places. But due to dates and locations I opted for Grand Cayman. We got to stay at the Ritz (FANCY!) for the Top Producer part and then we would extend our trip to the Westin since I have booked a group there (Westin is right next to the Ritz).

Upon arrival, I felt like a pretty big deal when they had a host meet us at the airport holding a sign with my name on it! (just ask anyone…I will tell anyone that I’m awesome). We were walked to the van that would transport us (my friend Melissa went with me) along with a few other HB associates and their guests to the beautiful Ritz. I would say transportation, air conditioning and fresh bottle of water was great. But even funnier, while we were waiting in the van – we saw that Grand Cayman has several wild chickens! I thought it odd so I took a picture and hoped we wouldn’t see chicken on many menus. Would that be like serving fancy road kill in the states?

WIld Chickens

Wild Chickens in Grand Cayman

The island is just 22 miles – so nothing is far. It took us all of about 10 minutes to get from airport to hotel. Upon arrival we were greeted with drinks and cookies. I had a Rum Runner to start (since I figured that would be the extent of my running on this trip).  We were all set to go to our ocean view room! It was awesome and beautiful but, I just wanted out on the beach! ASAP! Then the ammenity of fresh juices and rum arrived. Ahhh. Make my own drink THEN head to the beach. These Ritz people are totally on my same line of thinking.

Grand Cayman Ocean View from Ritz Room

Grand Cayman Ocean View from Ritz Room

After a couple hours on the beach (and luckily no sunburn), we went back to the room to get a shower and get ready for the night’s party – on the beach! (No shoes required). It was beautiful and great sunsets. I really can imagine having a super event here!

Sunset Beach Party at Ritz Cayman

Sunset Beach Party at Ritz Cayman

The meal was delicious and I had to go back for more of the wahoo (sushi grade), conch soup, salads galore, other beef, and meats. Plus, lots more rum-runners!  And I even asked the guy playing steel drums if I could play. He taught me “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” (I’m writing more about that night – just don’t have it done yet).

The next morning was what I was looking forward to most. Swimming with stingrays! It was beautiful! And I hear that kissing a sting ray gets you 7 years of good luck! I’m getting 7 then. (More on that excursion specifically click here).

Cayman, sting rays, good luck,

Kissing Stingrays in Grand Cayman (Pucker up Sophie).

That evening we headed back to the hotel and had another great meal where we has so much food we could almost pop. There were at least six stations of food from seafood to pork and yes – I did see chicken on the menu! The invite said “Caribbean Chic” what is that?!?!

The next day we moved over to the Westin. We had the afternoon to ourselves then met in the lobby for a tour of the property and another amazing dinner on the beach. The dinner was fantastic. It was a menu specially prepared for us as they are re-furbishing the kitchen. The Chef presented each. I picked the top option (salad, fish, chocolate) and Melissa picked the lower option (crab cake, steak and brulee) and we shared each. I love traveling with a friend who will share with me and let me eat of her plate.

Sunset Beachview from Westin Grand Cayman

Sunset Beach view from Westin Grand Cayman Dinner

The following day Melissa and I decided to go on the city bus (which also acts a bit like a taxi as you flag it down when you want to hop on) to go shopping. We went to a high end shopping area (which also was said to have a farmer’s market but there were just a few booths) and then decided to go to Georgetown (the main town on the island where all the cruise ships dock). Georgetown was typical tourist area – with lots of souvenir junk and jewerly shops. When we were there we went to the Guy Harvey shop. He happened to be there signing autographs. (I have to be honest and say I have no idea who he was/is – but the locals seemed to be all about this guy). He was nice and we got some items autographed. Then we ate sushi at the Guy Harvey restaurant. It was probably some of the best fresh sushi I have ever had and we tried the conch fritters. (Eat like the locals?) Then headed back to the hotel to do dinner with some of the other folks from the group who were still around. It sounds like the highlights of this trip were the meals.

I was sad to see the next day go – and we had to head back to Atlanta to get back to Denver. The trip was fun fun fun and I would go again. I would like to go with my romantic interest. Those beaches are amazing. I hope I win another great trip next year too!

Try The World From Your Own Mailbox

I may have mentioned before that I am sort of addicted to receiving mail. I know it is sort of a weird obsession. For as long as I remember the mail was so exciting and intriguing (I sort of wonder why I didn’t pursue a job as a mail person). I have signed up for several magazines and monthly subscription packages.

It almost feels like I won a prize when the mail arrives and it is my box from Try The World. This is my second box from them. The first was Paris. Which I opened with my daughter – it included tea, dijon mustard, caramels, cookies and more.

This month was Japan! One place that my daughter wants to go visit. We make an ordeal out of opening our box. We carefully take out each piece, try it together. The box comes in a pretty Tiffany blue color. There is a culture guide included which not only explains a bit about the culture but also a bit about the chef that helped curate the box, some ideas on how to use the contents of the box (this time it was a tea ceremony and dinner date), there is also a link to a Spotify playlist that goes along with that event.

Try The World Japan

Try The World Japan Box

Kasugai Peach Candies Try The World

These were the Peach gummies. made by Kasugai.

Try The World Japan Box Okonomiyaki kit. It is basically an omlette like pancake. #delish

Try The World Japan Box Okonomiyaki kit. It is basically an omlette like pancake. #delish

We loved the caramels and gummy candies (no surprise) and disliked the seaweed snack. It took a bit more to make the okonomiyaki kit because we needed a few of our own ingredients (eggs, water, bacon, cabbage, green onions). But it was tasty when we did make it.

We are excited to see where we will visit next. You can save $15 on your subscription if you follow this link: http://fbuy.me/cINRi.

What foods would someone experience at your house? Do you have a specialty?

A Night In India via Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

I have been trying to find a time to attend the special Moonlight Dining series at Arapahoe Basin for several years now. Ever since I heard about it. The ski area hosts a monthly special Moonlight meal at the Black Mountain Lodge at mid-mountain. Most skiers know that the last lift of the day happens at 4 p.m. Then everyone is in some sort of race to clog up I-70 with loads of traffic. I wasn’t really sure what to expect – but open for anything.

We headed to Arapahoe Basin around 4:30 p.m. Check in time is at 5 p.m. This particular dinner was lift served (not all of them are) so we had a choice, we could either take the lift up to mid-mountain, hike up, snowshoe up, or skin up. We chose to hike. It was a beautiful night with the full moon up and the sun just setting. I do want to warn you that hiking in Uggs (which I did) is not the best choice of footwear (I did have hiking boots – but chose to leave them in the car – not so smart). It is a winter hike. By that I mean, wear all the winter wear you would when you are going skiing. You will need to have those ski pants on, jacket, gloves and a hat. It is a hike! So be prepared with a bit of water too. (I downed a gallon of water when we got to the top because I forgot that detail).

When we arrived at mid-mountain the stars were beautiful and the Black Mountain Lodge had been transformed from some cafeteria style utilitarian feeling hut to an elegant lodge complete with real linens and silverwear. There was lovely atmosphere including a local musician who played guitar and sang songs. It was a little bit of older rock and roll – but certainly set the entertainment mood. The bar was open (lots of people drinking a bit of wine). Chef Rybak came out of the kitchen and addressed the group (of almost 100 people) what they had prepared. He also said that this was the first time they had done Indian food so he felt that he really pushed his staff.

Black Mountain Lodge all set for Moonlight Dinner Series.

Black Mountain Lodge all set for Moonlight Dinner Series.

Chef Rybek

 

The meal was four courses including Hors d’Oeuvers; Soup & Salad; Entrees and Desserts. Each of these were delicious in their own right. I liked the idea that they didn’t go overboard when it came to spices (and I know that a lot of Indian food is very spicy). We had made a decision to try a little bit of everything. This also meant that we would have a LOT of eating to do! (Give me a challenge…)

Hors d’oeuvres included: Freshly made Paneer with dried fruits & nuts; Onion Bjajias; Fresh Coconut Chutney; Vegetable Samosas; Onion, Mango & Peanut Chaat; Spiced Potato and Chickpea cakes; Skewered Chicken Tikka; Cucumber & Yogurt; Goan-style Mussels.

My favorite was the Paneer (the mounds at the bottom of this picture). Paneer is like a soft home-made cheese that is served with naan bread, dried fruits and nuts).

Hors d'Oeuvres at Moonlight dining at Arapahoe Basin

Hors d’Oeuvres at Moonlight dining at Arapahoe Basin

Soup & Salad: Spiced Cauliflower Soup; Mango, Tomato and Red Onion Salad; Spinach and Mushroom Salad; Naan bread

This must have been my favorite course. I honestly loved every one of the things on this course. I hear that Cauliflower is the vegetable of the year (like Brussel Sprouts have been for the past couple years).

Entrees: Tandoori Masala Lamb Chops; Fresh Tomato and Onion Chutney; Pea and Mushroom Pulao; Sweet and Sour Pineapple; Balti Chicken Vindaloo; Masal Chana; Dhal with Roasted Garlic; Mango Chutney; Monkfish and Okra Curry; Hot Lime Pickle; Vegetables with Almonds.

All of this was good for different reasons. I would say my favorite was the lamb. It seemed to have a perfect flavor crust and was cooked perfectly. If I was going to go back for more or wish I could order one item on it’s own, it would be the lamb.

Entrees plate at Arapahoe Basin Moonlight dining

Entrees plate at Arapahoe Basin Moonlight dining

Dessert :Creamy Rice Pudding; Carrot Halva; and Drunken Oranges – which also had a ginger cookie. (I totally forgot to take a photo of this because I was so darn full and was complaining about how my pants don’t fit anymore).

I was sort of disappointed in the desserts. But I was also sort of glad I was. I was so full of all the other meal. The fact that the desserts weren’t my favorite – I didn’t have to feel bad not cleaning my plate.

We had left it up for discussion if we would hike back down or ride the lift. We opted to “slide” back down. We didn’t have sleds (and we didn’t steal any trays – despite someone suggesting that). So we slid down the mountain on our butts. It was totally fun. There were parts when we got going pretty quickly others we had to stand and get to the next steeper part of the mountain.

I will go back for certain next year. I will try another theme (they also have Italian, Bavaria, New Year’s Eve, Spain and Randonee). http://www.arapahoebasin.com/ABasin/mountain/bml-dinners.aspx They sell out quickly so I better check my calendar now! Who wants to go with me?

Dinner with Sacramento at Coohills in Denver

Sacramento Convention and Visitor’s Bureau along with help from the Hyatt Regency and the Sheraton representatives made it to Denver for a tradeshow (MIC – Meetings Industry Council). We were invited to dine with them at Coohill’s restaurant. Even though the restaurant is located miles away – we were treated to a dinner ripe with yummy food and fresh produce that was brought in by Sacramento!

For those who either can’t remember or never studied geography, Sacramento is the state capital of California. Sacramento boasts over 8,000 acres of farms (and farmers markets are available any day of the week – in summer).  It [Sacramento] was named the farm to fork capital. Thus they wanted to share some of that great “farm” with our “fork.”

Our Menu for the five-course tasting and pairing. Each course was presented (and explained) to us by Chef Tom Coohill. The artistry of each plate could never fully be explained or photographed. But simply tasted. Tasted from the great conversation, to the great atmosphere, to literally the great taste.

Course 1 – Blue Crab Cake with mustard and chives with an Eric Montintin Sancerre 2013

Course 2 – Lemon Sole with Olive Oil poached new potatoes and champagne sauce with Joseph Drouhin Rully 2011

Course 3 – Duck Confit with braised green cabbbage, garlic, sherry & honey with Wild Horse Pinot Noir

Course 4 – Steak Sirloin, Rosemary roasted new potatoes, celery root puree and crispy brussel sprouts with Simi Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon

Course 5 – Apple tart, profiteroles, chocolate mousse tort and Peter Lehmann Australia.

The only problem with a five-course meal is that I am so full that the last few courses get little more than a taste (and I felt like the pants that fit me when I came in didn’t fit any longer).

Thank you to Betsy from the CVB, Jennifer from the Hyatt and Lynda from the Sheraton. We really did get a taste of Sacramento that night.

Frieda’s Awesome Foods

I honestly love trying new and different foods. I am also insistent that my kids to the same. I have a rule that they have to try something three times to decide if they like it or not. I got on a email list (mostly because of my contributions at MileHighMamas.com) for Frieda’s Produce.  I am super excited each time I receive one of their boxes. They usually contain some of the most unique foods available in the United States. Some of our more recent favorites that we have hunted down in stores (we found out that King Soopers pretty consistently carries the stuff as does Sunflower Market).

1. Sunchokes – These little morsels look a bit like a ginger root. We have prepared them by boiling them and then gently sauteeing them in a bit of butter (for my mom who believes that I can only cook things that are boxed, bagged or frozen should be impressed that I actually used the word sautee right there in the correct context). They taste just like the heart of an artichoke without all the falderall of the leaves and the other stuff you usually have to work to get to the yummy middle.

2. Purple Brussel Sprouts – Yes, they look like and taste just like a regular brussel sprout (only maybe a tiny bit smaller). The color has created fun on our plates and my daughter devours them like they are going out of style! (Sprouts are so stylish you know).

3. Eggroll Wrappers and WonTon Skins – We created some of the best stuff with these! We made our own Chili Rellanos by wrapping a chunk of velveeta cheese and a jalepeno in an Eggroll Wrapper and then deep fried them. Easy and was one of the biggest hits of our Superbowl Party! And yes, we made our own potstickers with the WonTon skins. The recipe was easy enough to have my kids help and then we enjoyed. Potsticker recipes are abundant and easy to find on the web. It is essentially ground pork, red bell pepper, onion, ginger, water chesnuts and cabbage.

4. Passion Fruit – I’ve had this stuff in a smoothies before but, never knew what it really was. And it’s always a little daunting to have to watch a YouTube video to figure out how to eat something. (For the record you just cut it in half and then scoop out the insides. You eat the whole inside with the small seeds and all). It was a bit more tart than I expected – but it was delish!

One of the things I (we) love most is that Frieda’s really just has some fun with their foods. They are aware of great foodie dates – like this month they will focus on Not So Fat Monday. Great produce (like the Mardi Gras colored cauliflower). I find that I usually gravitate towards the fruits first. Don’t be intimidated to try something new – and don’t let your mom’s “don’t play with your food” adage play too loudly in your head. #FoodIsFun